Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mind Chatter

The physical part of practice is quiet. No doubt there are subtle changes simmering under the surface, but at the moment I'm enjoying the plateau. Breath has been steady and I'm finding myself moving through the practice savoring the familiarity.

I think of the Ashtanga practice as a lot like that venomous tentacula vine from the Harry Potter books. If I just sit quietly for a minute, I find that the practice has started working it's tendrils in everywhere. While I'm busy keeping my eyes on asana practice, the practice itself is twining itself up all of life off the mat.

The practice of "noticing" is making its way into the rest of my day to a greater and greater extent. I find myself in practice noticing a sort of under-the-surface chatter even though the asana and the breath feel quiet. The quieter the physical aspect is, the louder the mind sounds. The awareness of a seeming constant buzz of thoughts, anxiety, and discomfort with being truly still is making itself heard off and on during the rest of my day.

I find that I don't quite know what to do with it. Sometimes, just the awareness that it's there is enough to quiet the buzzing of mind chatter a bit and sometimes it's not.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Food Experiment

Practice is at a happy plateau. There are plenty of opportunities for refinement of movement, breath, and attention, but no immediate frustrations. Even mayurasana has settled for the moment into something that I can move through without the sort of "ick" feeling that it's brought up for the last year or so.

...but leave it to this practice to keep quietly peeling back the layers even when I'm not really looking.

The one thing that I have been noticing in practice lately is a feeling of heaviness. I ignored it for awhile, not liking at all what it seemed to be pointing to....arg. My weight had crept up. I am very much an emotional eater and after a roller coaster spring, too much cheese and chocolate had made themselves felt.

So began the food experiment...today begins week 5.
What happens if I explore food in the same way as I might explore my asana practice?

The findings so far?...
I've constructed a number of patterns based on early mixed messages about food, health and body image. These patterns aren't serving me, but I'm finding the process of beginning to dismantle them very uncomfortable...uncomfortable in the early years of leg-behind-head kind of way...uncomfortable in the way of any pose that leaves you whimpering on the mat, staring into the face of fear and doubt. There is a lot here that I don't want to see.

The practice is good at being the rough spot to rub against as I shed habits like skin. Despite it's proclivity to point me directly at all the uncomfortable places, I trust it. I trust it because out of the years of practice is slowly coming a realization that I am not broken. I am enough just as I am.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Technique and Freedom in Practice

I enjoy seeing new students arrive at the studio and love watching them puzzle through their first Mysore class. I say as little as possible when they ask over the phone or by email. "How does it work?" I just encourage them to come and try it...because, really, what is there to say about Mysore class anyway? ...to borrow words from Pattabhi Jois, "You come. You do."

The Mysore style Ashtanga practice always reminds me of this quote from A Wrinkle in Time...

"Mrs Whatsit: A sonnet is a very strict form of poetry is it not? There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That's a very strict rhythm or meter, yes? And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?

Calvin: You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?

Mrs Whatsit: Yes. You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."

The practice also reminds me of childhood piano lessons. I spent what seemed like an interminable amount of time practicing technique, learning notes, counts, scales. I was taking piano lessons because I wanted to play music, to create that indescribable feeling when a great song hits you and changes you.
Years went by before I could see that underneath great music is technique and to create great music that is outside the framework of technique takes an incredible depth of understanding of the framework itself.
I never really looked for that kind of depth when it came to playing music and I remain a very mediocre pianist.

I think I'm only just beginning to appreciate the kind of freedom that can be created from surrender to the strict form that is Ashtanga yoga practice.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Confluence

I'm going to The Confluence.

...and any one who knows me really really well might ask me why?

I have a teacher. I was done sampling teachers and searching in that way on a morning in November in 2005.
I was at a small group, week long, Mysore workshop...just 4 people and our teacher. Late in the week, I was having a "tight hip" sort of day. It was the moment for supta kurmasana and it just wasn't going to happen. My hips were tight and both legs were not going to go. My teacher didn't push it, just helped me with one leg at a time and did so with no sense of disappointment or impatience in me or my practice. It might be the first time I ever really stopped fighting that pose and just let it be. That was it. I had found a teacher.

I've dropped into the occasional Mysore room in other cities while traveling for work or visiting family. These visits are a bit like any other visit to a new place. They're fun, but there's also a certain feeling of wanting to be "on my best behavior", to be polite and considerate...all those niceties that were well honed in my mid-western upbringing.

...but I'm not sure there can be much "nudging of edges" until you drop the niceties....and that I think builds on trust that only comes in time.

...so why the Confluence then...5 of the most senior western teachers, sure...but I've never met any of them.

Patrick has touched on the reason here

and Owl has reiterated the reason here
...here is an excerpt from Owl's post that so beautifully describes the reason I am going to the Confluence:
"The sophisticates who have done the work and then just let their awareness open up... who have the discipline to stay open and let stuff continue to happen to them... these are the ones who are more alive than we are."

I'm going to Confluence because I want to here the stories of "The sophisticates". If practice on the mat can differ so much from one day to the next even within the same body, then how different must the experiences of these 5 senior teachers be....and yet when I hear them speak or when I read what they have to share, there is a feeling that they have all arrived in a very similar place.
There is a sense that they take themselves and their lives very lightly.

More than anything else, during the 4 days, I am looking forward to hearing about the work that they put in to make such lightness possible. I've seen video clips of asana demonstrations by most of the teachers that will be at the Confluence workshop and they are beautiful to watch, but it is their lightness and ease in life that has impressed me far beyond what they can accomplish on the mat.